Chicken and Rice and Middle Eastern Food Is Nice

Photo of Afghani Pulao, by Miansari66 via Wikimedia Commons“Buck, buck.”  That is the sound that chickens make.  In September, it’s not time to buck chicken, though, but it’s time to embrace it at meal times because…it’s National Chicken Month!  To help celebrate this versatile and relatively inexpensive protein source, and to offer you inspiration in case you’re in need, we offer this list of cookbooks focused on chicken dishes. Personally, I’m very fond of “sticky” chicken. Have you ever had it? My friends John and Candy make this delicacy and serve it every year at their New Year’s Day open house. The secret to its tasty and succulent moistness (and it is finger lickin’ good!) is to bake it at a low temperature for several hours. The meat just sheds off the bones.

Complementarily, it just so happens that September is also National Rice Month. Rice, a dietary staple more than half the world over, is sodium and cholesterol-free, comes in many varieties (red, black, brown, white, basmati, Arborio, etc.) and won’t take a big bite out of your grocery budget. Here in the U.S. we eat about 25 pounds of this all-purpose starchy grain each year, and we even grow a fair amount of it (in the boot heel of Missouri, too) – the U.S. is the fourth largest rice-exporting country. Rice, unlike chicken, lends itself well to sweet recipes, like rice pudding, a classic and comforting dessert. Here is a recipe I’d love to try, though I’d replace the vanilla she uses with ground cardamom to give it a new twist.

Back in July when I was visiting my good friend Laura on the East Coast, she introduced me to a close friend of hers, Amena, from Afghanistan. We sat around the kitchen table visiting while snacking on fresh bing cherries and salty, roasted pistachios. We talked about a number of things, but one thing that stuck in my mind was the mention Laura made of Kabuli Palao (spellings of this vary), Afghanistan’s national dish. Amena had made it for a number of special gatherings that Laura had been lucky to attend. Laura declared that this mélange of rice, carrots, raisins, nuts and fragrant spices was so delicious that it made her swoon. Mmmm…made me think I’d have to try making it, so I went looking for a recipe, feeling the need to broaden my repertoire of Middle Eastern recipes. I found this one that includes both of September’s celebrated ingredients.

These cookbooks can take you further afield in Middle Eastern cuisine and move you beyond the likely standards of hummus and baba ghanoush (not that these aren’t delicious). A recent addition to our collection, “Jerusalem: a Cookbook” by Yotam Ottolenghi, is a gem that will delight your eyes with sumptuous photos and your taste buds with delicious recipes. If you’d like to take a dip into Middle Eastern culture (including sampling the fare), then you can join us at the Callaway County Public Library in Fulton for a One Read Cultural Experience.

And now I’ll send you off with this verse by Maurice Sendak. He must have had such fun writing this, and surely he loved chicken and rice quite a bit to pay tribute to these classic soup ingredients in this playful way.

“In September
for a while
I will ride
a crocodile
down the
chicken soupy Nile.
Paddle once
paddle twice
paddle chicken soup
with rice.”

About Larkspur

Larkspur prefers biking to work, even in the rain and snow, having 2-3 car-free days per week. She raises children, frequents the Farmers’ Market, dances and earnestly wedges in time to draw, print-make and paint, and sometimes knits, and sometimes writes poetry.
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